Monday, May 02, 2005
Some experience of excellence.
One thing that I really believe is vital is, that no matter what happens in the classroom, it is really important that every student is encouraged to ‘stick’ at a task until they gain the feelings of satisfaction from comes from doing something really well.
Too many of our students give up whenever ‘the going gets tough’ and, worse still, seems to have internalized the idea that first finished is always best. If this is not addressed such children never feel the power that comes from completion. Instant gratification becomes the name of the game and effort and application are dirty words – far too old fashioned! The message seems to be that, if it is too hard (and if you complain enough) you give up!
I don’t mean students should persevere at any old tasks; although perseverance, resilience and ‘stick ability’, are important to help students get through the confusion and uncertainty that is part of all learning. I really mean tasks that are owned by the learner, that are meaningful, open ended, and involve student creativity.
The teacher’s role in any learning is to provide the help and encouragement to ensure students give things a fair go. This is difficult when teachers have to relate to twenty or thirty students (all at different levels and attitudes) but it is vital. How to achieve this focused interaction is a matter of classroom organization, but that another story.
I have always liked a quote from Harry Davis, University of Chicago, who wrote in an article in Fortune/Time 94 that ‘some experience of excellence’ is a key future skill. Saying that it:
‘…comes from mastering at least one thing supremely well. It can be anything- music, mechanics, motorcycle racing. If you don’t go deep into something, you don’t know what extraordinary performance is. You get satisfied with ordinary performance. And if you have never experiences it yourself, it’s hard to be a role model. Without an experience of excellence, you won’t appreciate the quality in others.’
Jerome Bruner, in ‘Essays for the Left hand’, a book about creativity, quoting Alfred North Whitehead continues the theme:
‘Education must involve an exposure to greatness if it is to leave a mark…. The ideas of excellence comprises as many forms as there are individuals…The school must have as one of its principal functions the nurturing of images of excellence.’
Bruner continues that:
‘…the teacher must embody in his own approach to learning a pursuit of excellence.’
The expressive arts provide an ideal means for schools to develop this sense of excellence (although maths and science fairs also are an ideal means). In fact, doing things well should permeate all aspects of school and be one of the messages children gain from their educational experience.
This would apply to presenting their ideas aesthetically, using design principles, in their books, research charts, all aspects of creative expression and of course sports activities. Strangely enough they have no trouble applying effort in self chosen artistic and sports activates. As teachers we could gain clues from the latter? Do we know what it is our student love enough to do well?
To achieve this sense of excellence would require teachers to do fewer things in their classrooms, and to do what is done in depth. They would need to see their role as one of a ‘creative coach’ so as to focus their valuable energy and time on coming alongside students to provide feedback to help them achieve their personal best.
Someone once wrote that, ‘You can tell a creative teacher by what they won’t do!’
Makes sense to me? Are we trying to do too much and in turn not doing it well enough?
What do you think?